On average we take about 25,000 breaths a day. It seems simple and automatic, right? Yet research continues to emerge that shows us the power of taking just a few breaths or of even changing the way we breathe. Entire books and even studies in veterinary medicine have specifically focused on breathing. For example, in 2020 journalist James Nestor published a book titled, Breath where he explores thousands of years of medical texts and recent studies in pulmonology, psychology, biochemistry, and human physiology to show the impacts of making slight adjustments to the way we breathe.

In 2019, Stevens et al. published an article in Veterinary Surgery titled, “Effects of a mindfulness exercise on stress in veterinary students performing surgery.” Dr. Stevens and her colleagues worked with a group of fourth-year DVM students and randomly assigned the students into a control group or a treatment group. The students in the treatment group were invited to do just five minutes of mindful breathing before performing surgery. The research team then examined the stress biomarkers of the students who participated in the mindful breathing compared to those in the control group. They also collected qualitative data from the students to see what impact, if any, just five minutes of mindful breathing would have.

What they found was remarkable. Right before surgery, the stress biomarkers decreased for students in the treatment group, while the stress biomarkers increased for those in the control group. The students in the treatment group who participated in mindful breathing also reported feeling more calm and relaxed as compared to those in the control group.

Dr. Stevens and her team concluded that the study provides evidence of how mindfulness, and in particular, mindful breathing can support decreased stress and increased calm prior to surgery, which could impact patient outcomes. She and her team also noted that this is the first study of its kind in veterinary surgery and that it can potentially serve as a model for future research regarding the impact of mindfulness in vet med.